How Phil Miller won the Iowa House district 82 special election

Democrat Phil Miller won today’s special election in Iowa House district 82 by 4,021 votes to 3,324 for Republican Travis Harris (53.8 percent to 44.5 percent). It was a larger margin of victory than Miller’s good friend Curt Hanson managed in his 2009 special election, the first state legislative race after the Iowa Supreme Court’s marriage equality ruling in Varnum v Brien. The results will be a morale boost for Democrats, since Donald Trump won nearly 57.8 percent of the vote in the House district 82 precincts last year, compared to just 36.4 percent for Hillary Clinton.

The 7,476 votes cast in House district 82, according to the unofficial tally, is roughly three times higher than the turnout for the special elections earlier this year in heavily Republican House district 22 and heavily Democratic House district 89. The major parties spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on television commercials and direct mail to mobilize supporters of Miller and Harris (more on that spending below). On the other hand, turnout for this race was a bit lower than voter participation in Hanson’s special election win eight years ago.

Miller’s home base of Jefferson County, containing the population centers of Fairfield and Vedic City, carried him to victory.

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Grassley and Ernst voted three times for higher costs and less insurance coverage

Republican efforts to replace the Affordable Care Act suffered a major setback this week, as the U.S. Senate rejected three repeal bills. It may not be the last “near-death experience” for Obamacare, as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell could bring one of the bills up again. But the Democratic caucus is unmovable on the issue, and it’s not clear what could bring GOP Senators John McCain, Lisa Murkowski, or Susan Collins on board.

Iowa Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst voted for all three Republican bills, of course, as everyone following this debate had expected. Grassley told reporters earlier this week that he would support any legislation that could get 51 votes in the Senate, leading to conference negotiations with House Republicans. Though Ernst never expressed it in such terms, she too demonstrated that she was willing to vote for anything her leader brought to the floor, regardless of its costs and impact on Iowans.

Let’s take a quick look at what Iowa’s senators promised to stand for on health care policy, compared to what they voted for when the chips were down.

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Turning good economic news into bad news

Economist Dave Swenson explains why “a tight labor market is good for workers and good for families,” contrary to what you may have read in the newspaper. -promoted by desmoinesdem

Iowa’s enviously low unemployment rate of 3.1 percent is distressing many in the business community and, by proxy, business news. In recent months more and more people are declaring that Iowa is at full employment, and that, they say, is a problem.

It’s not. Iowa’s economy bumping up against full employment, if in fact that is happening, is a good thing. It is the stated goal of every politician’s overweening job creation rhetoric. It is what we hope for as our economy moves through the wrenching disruptions to firms and households caused by recessions. It is precisely what we want to happen: as many people are working as our economy can support.

Unless it creates discomfort in the business community. Then low unemployment is a problem. Let me explain.

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Celebrating Art Cullen

Former State Senator Daryl Beall shares highlights from a June 16 event in Des Moines honoring Storm Lake Times editor Art Cullen, who won this year’s Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing for a series of columns that “successfully challenged powerful corporate agricultural interests in Iowa.” -promoted by desmoinesdem

Part toast, part roast, the standing-room-only soiree for Pulitzer Prize-winner Art Cullen was a memorable event. Orchestrated and emceed by Iowa Freedom of Information Council executive director Randy Evans, the event also served as a fundraiser and friend-raiser for the IFOIC and was attended by past and present journalists, politicos and other well-wishers.

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Weekend open thread: New leaders and new traditions

Governor Kim Reynolds took acting Lieutenant Governor Adam Gregg on a whirlwind tour late last week to Osceola, Mason City, Cedar Rapids, Davenport, and Gregg’s home town of Hawarden (Sioux County). Hundreds of people showed up for the Hawarden event; much smaller crowds turned out at the other venues. At each stop, Reynolds and Gregg praised former Governor Terry Branstad, and Reynolds repeated the four key goals she had laid out in her first speech as the state’s top official.

Early signs point to a highly political rather than policy-oriented Reynolds administration. The new governor’s top appointees are veterans of many Republican campaigns. Chief of staff Jake Ketzner worked on Branstad’s campaign in 2010 and managed the governor’s 2014 re-election bid; in between, he ran Representative Steve King’s 2012 campaign against Christie Vilsack. Deputy chief of staff Tim Albrecht spent most of his career as a spin doctor for GOP candidates or elected officials before joining a Republican-oriented political communications firm in late 2013. You don’t put guys like this in charge of your office if you’re a “policy wonk” or interested in reaching out to constituencies that felt ignored during Branstad’s tenure. These choices suggest that Reynolds plans to wage partisan warfare, day in and day out.

Over at Iowa Starting Line, Pat Rynard commented on how the Reynolds administration is already blurring the lines between official state events and 2018 campaign activities. Expect much more of this in the months to come.

Speaking of political games, progressive activists put up a parody site at ReynoldsGregg.org, pushing the message, “Kim Reynolds and Adam Gregg are Iowa’s new team, but unfortunately they have the same old failed priorities” (see screen shot below). Rynard recalled that GOP operatives including Albrecht relentlessly mocked Jack Hatch’s campaign for making the same mistake in 2014. At that time, quite a few of Iowa’s political reporters wrote stories about Republicans grabbing HatchVernon.com and the @HatchVernon Twitter handle. So far, those media outlets have not publicized the same incompetence on the part of the Reynolds team.

Other passages worth noting: earlier this month, the Iowa Board of Regents chose Michael Richards as president and Patricia Cownie and president pro-tem, replacing Bruce Rastetter and Katie Mulholland, whose terms ended April 30. Rastetter opted not to seek reappointment to the board, tacitly acknowledging that Iowa Senate Democrats would never have allowed his confirmation. Mulholland sought another six-year term, but for reasons that remain unclear, Branstad passed her over. Regent Larry McKibben had expressed interest in the board presidency, but he gave up without a fight and formally nominated Richards. I didn’t have a preference between McKibben and Richards; from my perspective, neither could possibly do worse in that job than Rastetter. This weekend, the Ditchwalk blog took an in-depth look at Richards: part 1 focused on his background and how he got the top job on the board, while part 2 looked at his early actions in the new position, speculating about whether Richards can fix the board’s “colossal credibility problem” after years of administrative abuses by Rastetter.

In March, Sean Bagniewski won the election to succeed Tom Henderson, the long-serving chair of the Polk County Democrats. Bagniewski announced on May 23 that former Senator Tom Harkin gave his blessing to have Iowa’s largest county Democratic organization hold an annual “Steak Fry” fundraiser. The inaugural event is scheduled for September 30 at Water Works Park in Des Moines; headliners have not yet been announced. Bagniewski joked, “One of my friends asked me how it felt to land the Steak Fry. It’s like adopting a baby gorilla. Where do you put it? How’re you going to feed it? How much is this thing going to cost?”

Final note: the New Leaders Council, “a nonpartisan program to recruit, train, and promote the next generation of progressive leaders,” is holding a fundraiser in Des Moines on Thursday, June 1. Money raised will support the five-month training program for next year’s New Leaders Council fellows. Local organizers hope to attract a more diverse class and are “doing more focused outreach to underrepresented communities” with a goal of having a 60 percent non-white and 55 percent female cohort of fellows for 2018. I enclose below more details about this week’s event and the training program.

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KWWL won't correct error-filled story on Stand Your Ground

Generally accepted journalism guidelines call for acknowledging mistakes in news reports, setting the record straight quickly, and doing so “in a way that encourages people who consumed the faulty information to know the truth.” The Online News Association’s “Build Your Own Ethics Code” project lists “promptly correct errors” among a short list of “fundamentals” that “should apply to all journalists.” The Radio Television Digital News Association’s code of ethics states, “Ethical journalism requires owning errors, correcting them promptly and giving corrections as much prominence as the error itself had.”

KWWL, the NBC affiliate in Waterloo, doesn’t hold its reporters to that standard.

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